Shock picture cigarette health warnings have ‘amazing impact’ in Canada

Wednesday 09 January 2002

Embargo: 12:00 midday Wednesday 9th January, 2002

An evaluation of new colour picture health warnings [1] has shown they have had an amazing impact on smokers in Canada – and have become a significant factor in smokers’ decisions about quitting. Under an EU directive similar picture warnings may arrive on packets in the UK as early as next year [2]. The survey found that

·         44% of smokers said the new warnings increased their motivation to quit smoking.

·         Among those smokers who attempted to quit in 2001, 38% said the new warnings were a factor in motivating them to try to quit.

·         The new warnings have made 58% of smokers think more about the health effects of smoking and 43% of smokers are now more concerned about the health effects of smoking.

·         The new warnings have motivated 27% of smokers to smoke less inside their home.

·         As a result of the new warnings on cigarette packages, 35% of smokers have learned more about the health effects of smoking than they did before.

·         62% of smokers think the new warnings make the packages look less attractive, compared to 3% more attractive and 35% no difference.

·         17% of smokers have put their cigarette package away on at least one occasion because they did not want others to the see the warning on the package.

·         The warnings have had greater impact on those with lower levels of education.

Clive Bates, Director of ASH said:

“If these warnings prompt people to stop and think again, then they will save thousands of lives in the long term.  It’s all about cutting through the denial and getting smokers to confront the desperate reality of cancer, heart disease and emphysema head on.”

“The pictures grab you at a gut level and communicate in the same way as advertising.  This is proper risk communication whereas the current weedy and virtually invisible warnings almost suggest that there isn’t that much to worry about. The evaluation shows an amazing impact and great success which we in Europe should follow next year.”

“We need picture warnings in Britain as soon as possible. If Ministers are as serious as they say they are about tackling smoking, then Canada has shown that this is a cheap and effective way to get the message across.


[1] Environics Research Group and Canadian Cancer Society.  Evaluation of New Warnings on Cigarette Packages Summary of findings and full report and background material (pdf) at the Canadian Cancer Society

[2] EU Directive 2001/37/EC Article 5.3. “The Commission shall, as soon as practicable and in any event not later than 31 December 2002, […] adopt rules for the use of colour photographs or other illustrations to depict and explain the health consequences of smoking…”  The directive also increase front and back warnings to at least 30% and 40% of the pack area respectively plus a 3mm border.


·           Canadian Cancer Society press release

·           Pictures of the warnings on the Health Canada website.

·          Background information Canadian Non-smokers Rights Association  (including hi-res images of the full packs for print reproduction)